With yet another turbulent season behind us, the Aston Villa faithful are once again resigned to use the ‘T’ word to describe the current state of affairs that seem to stunt our growth as a club year after year. You know the one I’m talking about. Transitional.
Yet this year, use of the word doesn’t seem to be in vain. Nor does it seem a buzz word, covering up the notion that we may be among the cluster of clubs struggling to keep up with the times in an era where loyalty is scarce and a contract is really only a white sheet ancestral to a piece of bark, which for some clubs is cut from the same tree on which money grows.
This may have been the pessimistic conclusion many at B6 came to at the end of last season as a result of a certain red-headed former manager’s reign of terror, but things actually seem to be looking up this time around. And not just in the literal sense due to our lowly league finish.
Our proud history has been established for many years and nothing can take that away from us, yet this transitional period that we’ve been dragging through might just be picking up in pace, ensuring that our bright future isn’t just half of a new catchy phrase.
This season saw a young, hungry manager with everything to prove in Paul Lambert taking the helm of the Lion’s realm, implementing a transfer policy reflecting his own standing, recruiting players with a youthful exuberance with as much to prove as himself.
Speaking personally, I recall waking up every morning during the summer transfer window and going straight to the computer half asleep, wishing on a Rotterdam 1982 star for new, exciting players on their way to Villa Park.
Hardly household names, a straight-to-wiki background check just wouldn’t satisfy the hunger for a saviour that we so direly needed. Yet the enigma surrounding players you never knew prior to signing them always allows for an eagerly anticipated opening of a Pandora’s Box come the start of the season.
Brace yourselves, I feel an inward transfers recap coming on…
Karim El Ahmadi – Started out well by opening the Lion’s account in the league against Everton, chipping in with a few solid performances to follow. However, by the turn of the New Year Karim slipped down the pecking order and into subs bench obscurity, leaving me confused and disappointed with the man whom many thought would fill the large void left by Stiliyan Petrov.
It is given he wasn’t the midfield-bossing maestro as initially thought, but hopefully he is just a sufferer of first season syndrome in a new league and style of play. I have faith Karim will find his feet come next season. 5/10
Matthew Lowton – If one player epitomizes our step towards a bright future, step forward our number 34, one Matt Lowton. An unknown entity for many upon his 3 million pound arrival from League One outfit Sheffield United, Matthew has emerged as one of the most exciting young full backs in English football, having played every minute of every game this season, an amazing achievement for the lad in his first season in the Premier League.
Not to mention two absolute screamers that any seasoned veteran striker would be proud of, the right back position that Matty has made his own is, in my opinion, the cornerstone of optimism and prosperity for the Villa moving forward. 8.5/10
Ron Vlaar – The man they call ‘Concrete Ron’ has been the heart of the Villa defense this season, for better or for worse. I say this only due to a few last-minute individual errors that have cost us, especially from set pieces. Otherwise our man has been solid at the back and integral in commanding our youthful back line, and many a time he’s come to the rescue where the inexperience of our squad has struggled to cope.
Ron just seems to be enjoying his time at B6, and as a Villan, I can feel his affinity for the Villa faithful. 7.5/10
Joe Bennett – I like his pace and bravery, reflected in his willingness to get forward and attempts to play through the defense, chipping in with the odd assist through his decent provision of service for our forwards. In saying so, I do fear that his Bannan-esque stature may not be cut out for the physicality of the Prem in the long run, as more often than not he seemed to be the weak link in the back line, muscled off the ball due to a lack of presence.
His first season in the big leagues was a far cry from his former stomping grounds in the Championship and he did well enough in stepping up when required. Still a little green but I see some potential; let’s hope he discovers it himself. 6/10
Jordan Bowery - The jury is still out on this one as he didn’t play nearly enough for anyone to develop a clear, concise idea of what he’s truly capable of. In his sporadic cameo appearances he has shown glimpses of what he could bring to the team, almost reminiscent of a young Nathan Delfouneso a few seasons back. With that in mind I’d like to see more of him, hopefully he gets in with a shout come next season. N/A
Ashley Westwood – The centre of distribution with a penchant for executing a play-opening pass, Ashley has been the catalyst for many of our sequences of play this season that ultimately saw the ball find the back of the net. Excellent vision for picking out the finest of channels to play through, his influence has been priceless and the sky is the limit for the former Crewe Alexandra academy graduate. Another great find by Paul Lambert from his lower-league diggings. 8/10
Christian Benteke – First season in the Premier league, 19 goals. Unplayable. I could end it right there, but such as feat deserves at least a paragraph of praise. From the moment he scored on his debut against Swansea, you knew this kid from Belgian league outfit Genk was on a mission not to justify a price tag, but to show the world who this 6 foot 4 “monster” (as Fabian Delph describes him) donning the number 20 shirt for Villa was.
He leads the line with a combination of technical skill and ferocity, and in doing so was yet another vital piece to the puzzle forming the bright future of Aston Villa. It is vital that we keep him at least for another season, as it would be a real sucker punch to witness yet another saga that leaves us feeling robbed of our prized assets again. Where else in the world is he going to get his name sung to the tune of Seven Nation Army so lovingly by our Holte End songbirds? Better tune up those vocal chords. 9/10
Yacouba Sylla – Discovered in the lower echelons of Ligue 2, Sylla is a battler in the midfield. He is always partial to a tussle to win the ball back, something we’ve lacked for a while. He gives us that bit of a mean streak that we need in order to maintain control in the centre and he’s not afraid to commit to a challenge (though it doesn’t always work out). At 22, and having only joined in January the Yac is by no means a finished product. Still a youngster with plenty of ground to cover, but one that I eagerly await to watch unfold. 6.5/10
I didn’t bother reviewing Spurs loanee Simon Dawkins as he barely featured, nor do I recall a mere blade of grass he may or may not have covered in his time here. I would love to say something nice about the kid, but with only 4 appearances in his time here he leaves no great impact as he heads back to his parent club.
With the players purchased this season Paul Lambert has stayed true to his philosophy as a new-age manager with alternate ideas to that of his contemporaries. Not many will risk the present to build on the future, as most teams within the league demand some sort of short-term success, whether it be a respectable finish on the ladder or to a greater extent, silverware (and nothing less).
While us Villans have felt somewhat unfulfilled by results in recent seasons, with respectable leagues finished let alone silverware gone begging, it seems that between the 3 managers we’ve had in as many years that our current manager seems to have a game plan that may be crazy enough to work.
Some consider it to be ‘the right way’, not that we have the cash to splash in order to do it any other way, comparable to those in the upper echelons of the table.
Others dismissed his preference for youth over experience as madness, but with a season down, the method to it all is starting to show. We’ve gone from transitional to having turned the corner. Up The Villa.
image: © edrost88